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Innovative CIOs: Moving On Up

Back in business school, on my first day of the required Marketing class, the professor put a slide up on the board that said something to the effect of: "More of today's CEOs have risen to the top through the marketing function than from any other area of business." Of course, hyping one's own field of interest is something you'd certanly expect a marketing professor to do. Nevertheless, the slide made an impression. Was there something about Marketing, compared to Finance, Operations or anyth

Back in business school, on my first day of the required Marketing class, the professor put a slide up on the board that said something to the effect of: "More of today's CEOs have risen to the top through the marketing function than from any other area of business."

Of course, hyping one's own field of interest is something you'd certanly expect a marketing professor to do. Nevertheless, the slide made an impression. Was there something about Marketing, compared to Finance, Operations or anything else, that generates leaders?

Or is there some other explanation?In the late 90s, the generation of business leaders at the top of the heap may have come through the marketing channel because, quite simply, marketing was where the action was. The rise of national media, global brands and mass-market advertising needed people who could navigate the shift between local businesses and national businesses. Thus, the shifting landscape provided an evolutionary advantage to the marketing wizards.

But will the business leaders of 2020 have similar marketing backgrounds? Perhaps not. While it is true that figuring out how to market through these channels is no less important than it was before, this time, we're moving from mass-market channels to Internet-mediated channels. Today's market calls for mass customization. That requires a knowledge of not just how to appeal to customers, but also how to wring the efficiencies out of operations, how to balance budget and financial priorities, how to manage the pounding waves of innovation, and how to motivate talented people.

In short, it's the CIOs who, through their tireless efforts to serve their organizations with technology, are grooming themselves to be the next generation of business leaders.

In this month's special edition of BS&T, Senior Editor Maria Bruno-Britz spoke to several Innovative CIOs:

- Jean Davis from Wachovia, who started out as a corporate relationship manager at her bank;

- Webb Edwards from Wells Fargo, who describes the way that business interacts with IT in his organization.;

- Timothy Theriault from Northern Trust, who has built an IT department where he can put his technology people in front of clients;

- Greg Bixby from Republic Bancorp, who instituted a "Keep It Simple" strategy at his bank;

- Pravir Vohra from ICICI Bank, who's bringing low-cost banking across India and around the globe; and

- Kent Seinfeld from Commerce Bank, who's sourcing applications that support his organization's leadership drive.

Don't be surprised if these names pop up higher on the org chart one of these days.

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